The desert Train


(The iron ore train)

It is the longest train in the world, with a length of up to 3 kms. It has been operating since 1963, (with some interruptions due to wars in the region) and transports iron ore from the Zouerat deposits in the Sahara Desert to the port of Nouadhibou in the Atlantic, on a 700km route along the Western Sahara border.

The train has become a travel attraction, with passengers unofficially riding on wagons loaded with mineral. Some consider it as a life experience, a personal achievement or the main reason for visiting the country.

Personally, I consider it a somewhat overrated goal, there are definitely many more unforgettable experiences for an experienced traveler.

But it is definitely a very fun, free and relatively practical way to get to this point where there is no shorter road connection.

The 12-hour distance from the village of Choum (or alternatively 16 hours from Zouerate) to Nouadhibou is mostly under a sky with diamond stars, while at the end of the route the sunrise in the desert is unforgettable. The night is cold on the wagon and you’ll need blanket, sleeping bag and more heavy clothing compared to the daytime temperatures in Africa. But the most important element that affects the comfort of the trip is the intense ore dust  that is carried away by wind and covers you with a black layer. A face mask is necessary, the traditional turban becomes useful and for eye protection you need bike or ski glasses.

I lay a sheet on the smudge of the ore, secure the camera backpack in the nylon case of the blanket and all together in another garbage bag. I find a convenient spot on the mineral. I’m having a cereal bar for dinner, with enough water. Just be careful not to break the water bottles and they find me dehydrated next morning. I stupidly did not get a headlight, but I fixed the hand lens on my belt, but it is not very effective. A diesel engine stopped just a bit further throws some light and helps a bit. After no more than 15 minutes, a sharp kick without any warning sound (after all, the machine is half a kilometer away) gives a start. It’s not cold yet, probably in the morning when we approach the Atlantic the temperature will drop as they say. Not even half an hour after and things change. The temperature drops sharply. From the 33 degrees Celsius it had during the day, now it is probably close to 10, and it will probably drop to 5-6 in the night. The blanket turns out to be a good buy, but the wind blows through. First I put my feet in the garbage bag with the camera backpack. It is highly effective. Luckily I have two more large garbage bags in a row. Without separating them I fasten them over the blanket, being careful not to get blown by the wind and this way I will travel comfortably. They are rather royal comforts in relation to how a homeless person experiences a night. Only if the face mask did not stretch my ears and I had a softer pillow, the backpack as a headrest is not comfortable…

Feels like an intergalactic journey, maybe the brightest stars I have ever seen! If I reach out I will steal a handful of diamonds from the dome. And the crescent, just like on the flag of the country, smiles at me horizontally. Dreams are intertwined with reality, after all what I live is more intense than the dreams of a short sleep.

The beast roars, the rails squeak creepily, the carriages sway left and right as if sailing in a storm, but I enjoy it, like the latent memory of the lullaby in my cradle

In order to tame the beast, you must respect its rage, follow the gallop on its back, until the ocean breeze calms the flames burning inside.

The location on the map shows that we are approaching the shore, it’s not dawn yet, I look forward to seeing the face of the beast.

In the desert it dawns unhindered, I begin to see the endless serpentine line and the black cloud of iron ore drifting in the reddish sky. For these magic last hours of the trip, all the effort was worth it. The first rays of the sun warm the fatigued body again, saying goodbye to the bed over the black dust. Some herds of camels look at the passing train, as a usual sight.

Just outside Nouadhibou the water element makes appears in a form of a shallow lagoon. The train stops outside the city and an old Mercedes is speeding towards me, in a dust cloud. 250mru I tell him firmly, in the absence of other passengers he accepts. He drives to the end of the train where the cramped passenger car is, but he does not find another passenger. I leave the dirty blanket as a gift to the driver.

The full Mauritania travel story here:

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